Should I break up with my smoker girlfriend?
May 19, 2009 7:57 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I have been together for about five years. When we first got together, I knew that she smoked, but she said she planned on quitting smoking altogether and I believed her. Not only do I find smoking offensive but I also have pretty severe asthma, which means that I cannot be anywhere near smoke. Is this hopeless? Should I just break up with her, since smoking seems to be the glue that hold her whole life together?

Five years later, she smokes less but she still smokes at social situations. The additional problem is that all of her friends are smokers, as are most of her family. Most of her friends only do things that would allow them to smoke. When we are in social situations, she smokes with her friends, leaving me to either find someplace where people aren't smoking or not go with her. These days, I mostly choose not to go out with her.
I've approached her with the problem, and she basically says "they all smoke, what can I do about it?"

She gets angry that I don't want to go out with her and her friends/family, but when I do I end up alone or sick, and usually angry.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
She chose smoking over you. If it bothers you that much, and if she really has no redeeming qualities, DTMF.
posted by halogen at 8:03 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

If after five years, something that's been happening all along suddenly becomes an emergency dealbreaker... than it's probably not actually the reason you don't want to be with her. Luckily, it doesn't matter - you aren't happy, and you want to break up, so you should.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:05 PM on May 19, 2009 [9 favorites]

Ultimatum time, coupled with the support that only constant nagging can bring.
posted by mattoxic at 8:05 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

She has either an addiction or a bad habit, depending on how you want to look at it. She has or has not tried to break her addiction or bad habit. If, after 5 years with her, you ask strangers whether or not you should break up with her over her failure to break her addiction or habit, then yes -- for her sake -- end it.

Find someone who has no addictions or bad habits, or who at least shares the same addictions and bad habits as yourself.
posted by Houstonian at 8:12 PM on May 19, 2009

What does it tell you that she made a choice to smoke (knowing its impact on you) and has been doing it for five years?

What does it tell her that you made a choice not to confront the issue of smoking (I mean really confront it) and have maintained that choice for five years?

You both need to make some new choices about this relationship.
posted by BringaYelve at 8:16 PM on May 19, 2009

A wise T-Rex once said; Let's say you have a problem with your partner. THAT SUCKS. But you two shoul talk about it, and if you can't reach a solution, resolution or compromise that's mutually satisfying and that you both believe will be acceptably implemented, then you should break up.

Your relationship problem TOTALLY SOLVED??
posted by Effigy2000 at 8:21 PM on May 19, 2009 [15 favorites]

I don’t think there is anything you can do to make her stop smoking. I can’t see an ultimatum working. To her, smoking might not be a big deal and her line of thinking might be something along the lines of, “Well, if he’s going to dump me just because I smoke, then he’s not someone I want to be with.”

I think you’re going to have to choose whether you can accept the smoking or not. Begging, cajoling, and hoping that she will stop probably is not going to work. This is something you can accept or not accept.

For the record, I detest smoking.
posted by parakeetdog at 8:29 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just leave. This question has been asked a hundred times, I've been where you are once, the outcome is the same. There is a twist here: you have asthma. She does a wholly optional thing with no redeeming value that isolates you on the one hand and causes you physical discomfort on the other. This fails the casual, quick cost/benefit analysis everyone does when they work out how to treat mere acquaintances. I think it fails by a greater margin the way people treat the people they love.

She gets angry that I don't want to go out with her and her friends/family, but when I do I end up alone or sick, and usually angry.

Emphasis mine. She excludes you and then gets mad at you for it. Go find someone worth your time.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:31 PM on May 19, 2009 [6 favorites]

From the way you describe it, the people she hangs out with smoke and it's when she's with them that she smokes. So if as you say you have a physical reaction to the slightest trace of smoke it really wouldn't be enough to get her to stop smoking, would it? It seems like you would also have to make her get new friends otherwise you still won't be able to go out with her and her friends and she'll still come home with traces of smoke on her. And her family too if her family also smokes.

It seems like, if you don't want to or are physically unable to (due to the discomfort) associate with people who smoke at all, you definitely need someone who not only doesn't smoke themselves but who has the most minimal number of relationships with others who smoke.
posted by XMLicious at 8:31 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

No reason why you should be with someone whose hobby makes you sick, and no reason she should be with someone who (physically) can't deal with her hobby. Right? Although, knowing several loving couples one of whom is years or decades late coming through on a promise to quit smoking, I agree that the real issue is probably elsewhere and a little self-examination might help you get happier faster.
posted by No-sword at 8:53 PM on May 19, 2009

Wow, she sounds really awful. The only answer here is to dump her.
posted by jayder at 9:07 PM on May 19, 2009

She loves the cigs more than she loves you. If you love yourself as much as you once loved her, help her go live her dream life by cutting ties with her.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:26 PM on May 19, 2009

She's not awful. She's just totally addicted. I've known people who have tried to quit for their partner, but since they weren't quitting for themselves, it just crept back in their lives. No need to moralize or take anything personally as some here are encouraging -- people die of cancer rather than quit smoking. Sorry.
posted by salvia at 9:27 PM on May 19, 2009 [11 favorites]

Did you start dating her with the condition, established at the forefront as part of the implicit oral contract, that she would quit smoking within a certain amount of time? If not, you're trying to change your partner or you started dating her in the hope that she would change. You could definitely dump her over this, but you need to examine why you got into this situation in the first place.

In the unlikely event that you did in fact enter into this with that condition, then an ultimatum is completely reasonable.
posted by Electrius at 9:31 PM on May 19, 2009

Houstonian: Find someone who has no addictions or bad habits..

Lemme know how that works out for you.
posted by applemeat at 9:46 PM on May 19, 2009

Lemme know how that works out for you.

That was my point, actually.
posted by Houstonian at 10:16 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm with salvia. I have been told smoking is the hardest thing to quit, worse than hard drugs. And if she's quitting only for pleasing someone else, not for herself because she wants to quit the addiction? Yeah, not quite enough of a motivator. And lots of smokers tell nonsmokers "Oh yeah, I'm going to quit" when they get together (has happened to me). Easier said than done in some cases.

On the other hand, you have been putting up with this for five years already. How come? Why didn't this hit ultimatum/breakup point oh, four years ago? It kinda sounds like on some level you are willing to put up with it. Have you hit your limit?

(Disclaimer: I have done plenty of time around smoky people for the sake of a nonsmoker boyfriend whose entire family and friend set smoked. That was unpleasant enough, can't imagine doing so with a lung ailment on top of that. If I ever get lung cancer, I will know what period of my life to blame it on.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:20 PM on May 19, 2009

If you love her and are thinking serious long-term, make her understand that you detest it, don't want to be around it, and there are ways for her to socially smoke without dragging you into it. My wife hated my smoking too, and would nag, so I'd smoke on the down-low and wash my face, brush my teeth, use mints, etc. The bugger is you feel ashamed to kiss your partner when you're hiding it. She knew, and was mostly ok with me keeping it out of sight until we got married. I'd let her bust me, it was playful with undertones of seriousness.

If you really want it to work out and are thinking of marriage, save the bigger discussion about how you don't want her to freakin' die before you retire together for pre-engagement, and just get her to understand how repugnant it is to you so that you can avoid it without shame.
posted by aydeejones at 10:45 PM on May 19, 2009

Also, a lot (not all!) women are somewhat concerned with how they will age over the next 20-50 years, so you can tell her that you want her face to be as pristine and beautiful as it was the day you met her.

Cigarettes seem hot 'n sexy until your upper lip shrivels up and you have chronic COPD. She's less likely to "freakin' die" before you retire and more likely to be a sad, hacky and decrepit old lady, unless she really keeps her smoking to a minimum, maybe maybe.
posted by aydeejones at 10:49 PM on May 19, 2009

I remember this time when I dated someone from Central Europe. He promised that he didn't really smoke , but all his friends and family members did. When we went to social events in his country or with his countryfolk smoking was THE THING and of course he smoked like a chimney. I realized that even if he stopped smoking, I was never going to be able to extract him from that culture. We broke up for other reasons, but when I think about him, esp compared to my current BF (from a non-smooking European country), I occasionally think about how I am very glad that it didn't work out so I didn't have to endanger my health and constantly smell like smoke. I couldn't believe the amount of resentment I developed towards his smoking and his smoking compatriots.

Maybe that is not the real reason you want out, but I understand how it would wear on you.
posted by melissam at 11:29 PM on May 19, 2009

I'm the "girlfriend" in this situation; I smoke and my wife doesn't. When we first dated we both smoked, but she quit and is now rabidly anti-smoking. She hates the smell and finds it offensive. I'm down with that, I understand it, and I admire her quitting when I haven't (I quit for three months but fell off the wagon).

I, like your gf does with you, don't smoke around my wife or especially my newborn son. If I do smoke outside the house--and I do fairly regularly--I make sure that I wash my hands, brush my teeth, use mints, before I come back home. If I'm in a social situation together with her I don't smoke. I'm making an effort to keep my smoking away from my family.

I'll bet dollars to doughnuts you have laid zero ground rules for your gf. It's ok to set ground rules about things; I'm sure she has some for you on completely different things. Explain to her how much it irritates you and put the responsibility on her shoulders to smoke when you're not around, or if you're around to go out to the parking lot to do it, to wash her hands and Febreeze her clothes. Basically, if the smell is a problem for you, transfer that problem from your shoulders and put it squarely on hers. That's what my wife has done with me! For your part, give her the freedom to do so now and then and don't harp on it too much. It's a relationship: compromise, the both of you.

If you explain this to her, and she doesn't understand, doesn't want to, doesn't care about your feelings on the matter, then maybe you should think about breaking up; it wouldn't be about smoking. It would be about a much deepe lack of mutual respect and trust.
posted by zardoz at 11:32 PM on May 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm also the girlfriend in this situation. After 5 years I quit for good. Zyban and a book called "The EasyWay to Quit Smoking" helped me. I also think you need to start with some serious ultimatums and ground rules. Get to agree to never smoke around you and quit in 2 months or it's over.
posted by xammerboy at 11:55 PM on May 19, 2009

I'll bet dollars to doughnuts you have laid zero ground rules for your gf.

I've approached her with the problem, and she basically says "they all smoke, what can I do about it?"

So yeah, I suppose the OP could have had her write her "she planned on quitting" declaration in contract form, notarize it, and now he could sue her, or whatever. The GF has basically washed her hands of any responsibility with her smoking. I don't believe any useful ground rules can be made from that.

Smoking is gross. I did it for 12 years. I quit when I wanted to do something for myself. But then again, I don't have kids.

zardoz, you laid out a very complicated, time-intensive, disciplined and expensive plan for you not quitting. Why don't you turn all of that discipline and planning against your smoking habit and QTMFA? Your baby deserves the zardoz I get to enjoy on metafilter ... a bright, interesting personality without the cigarette smoke.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 1:03 AM on May 20, 2009

Getting the girlfriend to quit smoking isn't going to solve the problem, even if she quits for him, she can't expect all her friends and family to quit smoking for him. If she can't understand that you don't want to go out with her because of her and her friends/family's smoking then you don't have much choice but to break up with her. You need a smoke-free environment, that's totally reasonable but its not really reasonable to expect her to dump all her friends for you.

I've approached her with the problem, and she basically says "they all smoke, what can I do about it?"

She's not wrong there, what are you expecting her to do about it? Even if she quits completely (which will be nightmarishly hard if all her friends and family smoke) your original problem will still exist - you can't go out with her friends/family without being isolated or ill, which makes her angry. If you're OK with her going out without you and you can make her understand why you don't want to go out with her so that she's not angry about you avoiding her friends and family then you have a chance of making it work. Otherwise, you really have incompatible desires. Honestly though, IMHO, the friends thing is workable but I'm not so sure about the family thing - I don't see how this can be a long-term prospect if you can't stand to be around her family.
posted by missmagenta at 1:12 AM on May 20, 2009

Look up the electronic cigarette. I went from two packs a day to none in about a week. Just google it and see what all you can find about it.
posted by Jules22871 at 2:46 AM on May 20, 2009

PS: If you want links to the better places to get the ecig from just let me know. I think I have looked at all of them.
posted by Jules22871 at 3:03 AM on May 20, 2009

Ask her if she's going to stop. If yes, support her until she does. If no, then break up with her, because life is too damn short to be putting yourself in this situation.

She gets angry that I don't want to go out with her and her friends/family

Does she know that this is because there's smoke? Is she aware that it can trigger a potentially fatal asthma attack? Does she care?

It seems to me that this girl has cigarettes higher on her list of "important things" than you. There are three options: You stay with her, a smoker. She quits smoking or only does it at points which don't affect your health. You dump her, and find someone who loves and respects you enough to not do things that can directly affect your health in negative ways.

My money is on the third option. She's had 5 years to quit.
posted by Solomon at 3:53 AM on May 20, 2009

Stopping smoking is the easiest thing in the world -- if you want to do it. But if you don't want to quit, your heart isn't in it but you're forced to, it won't work. So, she needs to decide if she wants to give up the smoking. If she does, great. If she doesn't, this sounds like a deal breaker for you, so you know what you have to do.
posted by Lleyam at 4:03 AM on May 20, 2009

You've accepted her smoking for 5 years. This is not about smoking.

This is about you wanting out of this relationship.
posted by HFSH at 6:16 AM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

I can understand why this is upsetting -- because whether it's smoking itself or other dynamics, you're not socializing with her as much, not going out together, and so there's a growing distance between you in all realms of life. I'm sorry.

Considering the smoking issue in itself, I think a big determinant of how to respond is the way in which she puts it. Does she want to quit? Has she tried? She knows it bothers you -- has she acknowledged that it's an issue with you, that she is unable to quit, but is sorry that it causes you discomfort? What about trying to work out socializing with friends despite it, like set aside a time to go out somewhere non-smoking so that you can come too?

Think about her overall actions, indications that she's aware of how you feel, acknowledging the impact of this on you. Is there compromise? Does she compromise? Do YOU compromise? All of these things go both ways. Think about how you are both interacting and addressing this and maybe you'll find some answers.
posted by davidnc at 7:10 AM on May 20, 2009

The 3 stages of a smoker / non-smoker relationship (from the perspective of a smoker)

1. I really like/love someone = don't smoke in front of them, wash hands & face, use mints, go outside, etc, seriously plan to quit.

2. I am comfortable in my relationship = don't smoke in front of them (usually), forget to wash up, don't hide the fact I am a smoker, don't plan to quit.

3. I don't really care either way = smoke in front of them, don't plan to quit, find every excuse to justify smoking (drinking situations, friends, family).

Sounds like your GF is deep in to #3.
posted by RajahKing at 7:23 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you love her, you should sit her down and tell her this is really important to you, and see if you can get her to see a doctor about quitting or even go through hypnosis. I know someone this worked for.

If she is still unwilling to work at this, then, you may have to break up with her.
posted by hazyspring at 7:35 AM on May 20, 2009

I also think you need to start with some serious ultimatums and ground rules. Get to agree to never smoke around you and quit in 2 months or it's over.


Mr. WanKenobi was mostly a non-smoker when we met. He'd been a heavy smoker in the past, but by the time we met he had only occasional (like, twice a year) cigarettes when stressed out. In our first year together, he promised to not smoke anymore at his own volition as long as we were together, because his smoking upset me for reasons I'll discuss in a minute.

It wasn't really a realistic promise, though. In our seven years together, some pretty stressful, awful things have happened--he had to care for an ailing grandparent, who subsequently died, followed by the death of several other relatives over a few short months. He went back to school and sometimes became completely bogged down and stressed out by school work. And because cigarettes were a familiar way of dealing with stress and anxiety for him, he would default to smoking. But that unrealistic promise he made me, and his fear of my disapproval, lead to his lying to me about it, which made things worse, much worse, when I'd taste cigarettes on him or find a pack hidden in his glove compartment.

These days, he knows that I won't tear him a new one if he turns back to smoking. And I know that his reliance on cigarettes, while it's something that I'm not thrilled about, is no reflection of his feelings about me or our relationship. I'd guess that he still has as many cigarettes as he had before--one or two a year. But we can talk about it and discuss it rather than having our relationship be a landmine of unrealistic expectations and lies.

And I'd much rather that. It's a wonderful relationship in other ways, and being understanding of addiction and bad habits rather than wagging a finger at them makes things much healthier and more secure. And I know addiction, because . . .

My father died a very slow death from smoking-related emphysema when I was eight. In the last months, he was still smoking several packs of unfiltered camels a day, despite the fact that he couldn't bathe or dress himself. After he died, I watched my mother struggle for nearly five years to kill her own smoking habit. And it was a struggle. A few years ago, she said something to me that seemed very significant. "I don't smoke anymore, but I'll always be a smoker," she said--and I understand that. After smoking for a very long time, it will always be a part of her identity, and it's still difficult for her to see others smoking and not think that cigarettes look tasty.

So even though I've never smoked (not even one, thank goodness!), I know more than anyone how difficult of a habit it can be to kick, particularly when it's reinforced socially--when others around you smoke. So I guess I'm just skeptical of how effective an ultimatum will be, long term. Even if she wants to quit, it can be tough, and she still might fall off the wagon. And if your relationship is otherwise a Good Thing, I think it makes more sense to be understanding and open rather than judgmental and closed--for one, it will help with trust within your relationship, and for another, if she has a support system when she backslides, it will be easier to quit overall.

That being said, there are some things you could do to reach a compromise. missmagenta is right--you need to tell her what she should do rather than just forcing you to hang out with people who are smoking all around you; as the non-smoker, that's your responsibility. I'm lucky to live in a state that bans smoking in restaurants, but even when I'm socializing with smokers (as many of my friends are) in my own home, they're understanding about going outside to smoke. Ask to go to restaurants--not bars--and ask to sit in the non-smoking section. Since this is a health issue for you, just asking politely shouldn't be an issue; you don't need to nag other about their habits in order to ask to be kept from something that makes you sick. They can go outside to smoke, and should be understanding of that in light of your asthma. Also, though it's unclear whether or not you and your girlfriend live together, I suspect that, already, people don't smoke in your house. Invite her friends and family there. Set up a little spot outside with an ashtray and a chair or two for the smokers. They'll get the idea.

If your girlfriend is unwilling to compromise along these lines, which are reasonable, then she's a jerk and it's probably time to DTMFA, regardless of whether or not she has long term plans to quit smoking. And if she's a jerk otherwise--as HFSH says, if you're just looking for a way out, then it's time to DTMFA, too. But figuring out smoke free alternatives isn't difficult, really, and if this really is all about smoking and socializing, you should really offer some alternatives before ending the relationship.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:38 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have been told smoking is the hardest thing to quit, worse than hard drugs. And if she's quitting only for pleasing someone else, not for herself because she wants to quit the addiction? Yeah, not quite enough of a motivator.

For saying that, when my ex got ill, I quit for her, cold turkey. OK, I took it up again later, but for me, even quitting for someone I loved wasn't a huge issue.

But that raises the question, if she's not willing to quit for you, when it's affecting both your time with her, and whether you can go out socialising with her, it sounds like her priorities don't include you...
posted by opsin at 7:42 AM on May 20, 2009

You're not the first one to ask about breaking up with a girlfriend over smoking.
Take home message from that thread is that you're allowed to set whatever boundaries you want for what kind of behavior is acceptable, but that gets sticky when you start telling her she can't even hang out with her smoker friends because you can't stand the smell on her. It probably does come down to you or the cigarettes, and you can't choose for her.
posted by slow graffiti at 7:54 AM on May 20, 2009

I have some friends in a similar situation, complete with an agreement made when the relationship was new that he would quit. Years later, he hasn't. The tension between his intense need to continue and her intense need for him to stop (out of concern for his health and her desire for their kids to have their father be alive for a good long while) has given rise to a lot of secondary unhealthy behavior. It has made a nag of her and a sneaky liar of him. The greatest tragedy to me is that their kids are growing up thinking this is normal behavior.

Of course you're different people that my friends, but it's worth considering how that tension will affect you if you go on as you have, and how it may already have affected you.
posted by harmfulray at 8:07 AM on May 20, 2009

She doesn't love you. Sorry. I was a smoker when I met my husband. He's not asthmatic but it bothers him a lot, so I quit within 2 weeks of our first date. I met him 5 years ago, and I guarantee that if I had continued to smoke, he would not be around now. Your girlfriend's behavior is disrespectful in the extreme.
posted by desjardins at 4:39 PM on May 20, 2009

The OP wrote:
Should I just break up with her, since smoking seems to be is what she pretends is the glue that hold her whole life together since she's addicted, and wants to justify her addiction.


I have sympathy for the plight of addicts, but let's not pretty up the reality with niceties about how her addiction is "necessary" to help her cope with her "insanely pressured life" (not quoting, but paraphrasing many friends & acquaintances).

She smokes because she's addicted. People who "need" coffee to wake up in the morning, are actually using a stimulant to try to compensate for sleep deprivation (which is a losing game). Just like junkies don't "need" a fix, and so on.

That's her lie to herself. Your lie is that this is all about the smoking. It is actually about the disrespect.

Why have you sought a partner who shows you so little respect? It's not mere coincidence. You deserve better.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:16 PM on May 20, 2009

The moralizing about smoking never ceases to amaze me. "It's not that she just chooses to smoke - she's an addict, she can't help herself" is like saying "It's not that she just chooses to have sex - she's a slut, she can't help herself." (Which isn't to say, of course, that being an addict in general is equivalent to being a slut - I'm saying that if you're calling someone an addict for the purpose of implying that their chosen behavior isn't really chosen, or isn't a valid choice, but rather it's involuntary behavior due to weakness of character, that is the same thing as calling someone a slut.)

It is not in any way disrespectful of one's partner to smoke when you're both hanging out with a bunch of people who are smoking. In fact, if she has curtailed her smoking so that she only does it in his or her presence when the OP is already around other people smoking that seems pretty respectful to me. Indeed if the OP essentially has the same attitude of many of the people posting here - "You are not worthy of me because you're a smoker" - she may well be affording the OP more respect than he or she deserves and maybe she should dump the OP.
posted by XMLicious at 10:21 PM on May 20, 2009

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